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After exploring Bangkok’s myriad waterways, head into the green interior of northern Thailand on a trip that takes in national parks, ancient Buddhist cities, street food, and homestays with hill tribes; then head south to the beach

Take a journey from Thailand’s hectic capital all the way to the jungles of the north. Start with a long-tail ride around the old canals of Bangkok, then head into the countryside to trek the forest trails of Khao Yai National Park. Catch the sunrise over the sacred statues of Sukhothai, then taste some street food in Chiang Mai. Finish up meeting hill tribes along Thailand’s border with Burma.

PHOTOGRAPHS CATHERINE SUTHERLAND @ccsphotographer

The 13th-century city of Sukhothai was the capital of one of the frst Thai kingdoms, and is now a World Heritage site

Plan your trip

1 Skip the traffc in Bangkok by taking a long-tail boat out into the city’s khlongs – its web of historic waterways (p54).

2 Listen to the calls of birds and monkeys echo through the forest canopy in Khao Yai National Park (p56).

3 Thailand’s past lives on in Buddhist rituals still performed around Sukhothai– its ancient, stupadotted capital (p58).

4 Chiang Mai is the hub for travellers in the north, but it’s also a prime spot to try out steet food and a cooking class (p60).

5 The villages in the deep-green hills around Mae Hong Son are home to different tribes, each proud of their own distinct lifestyle (p62).

MAP ILLUSTRATION: ALEX VERHILLE. PHOTOGRAPHS: STEFANO BALDINI / ALAMY, KRISTIAN CABANIS / AGE FOTO STOCK/SUPERSTOCK, CATHERINE SUTHERLAND

HOW TO GET THERE

BA, EVA Air and Thai Airways fly from London Heathrow direct to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport in 11–12 hours (from £480; thaiairways.com) Fares are often cheaper if you choose to travel via a hub airport on airlines including China Southern, Emirates, Etihad, Finnair, Jet Airways or Turkish Airlines, and many of these also fly from other UK cities. Visas for British passport-holders are issued on arrival, and permit stays for up to 30 days.

HOW TO GET AROUND

Public transport is very cheap in Thailand, but journey times can be long. The cheapest way to travel between major towns is aboard an intercity bus; the ones that operate from government-run bus stations are nearly always the safest and most reliable. There are several classes: the cheapest buses only have fans, but more expensive buses usually come with air-con and more comfortable seats. As a rough guide, a bus fare from Bangkok to Chiang Mai costs between £7.50 and £16. The Thai railway is slow and only really useful for reaching bigger cities such as Chiang Mai; fares start at around £10 a seat in the air-conditioned carriage, more for a sleeper berth. Air fares from Bangkok to Chiang Mai start at around £30 one-way (airasia.com). Some flights leave from Bangkok Don Mueang airport. For local journeys, taxis and tuk-tuks are cheap and available nearly everywhere; make sure you negotiate the fare before you start off; Bangkok has metered taxis. A driver and private mini-van starts at around £30 to £40 per day, plus petrol and tolls.

HOW LONG TO SPEND

The itinerary for this trip can be covered in around 10 days, but two weeks will allow a more leisurely pace, as well as side-trips; Bangkok could take up three or four days on its own. Remember to factor in travel time: the journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by bus takes at least 9 hours.

WHAT TO BUDGET

Thailand is still a cheap country in which to travel. Budget travellers could easily manage for under £25 a day by staying in hostels or homestays, eating at street stalls and taking public transport. Between £40 and £60 will cover mid-range hotels, admissions and activities; raising the daily budget above £65 brings some of the top boutique hotels into range, and also the chance to hire a guide and private driver.

WHEN TO GO

Peak season in Thailand is from November to March, when the weather is at its driest and temperatures are balmy, but not yet uncomfortably hot. Things get very steamy between April and May, while heavy monsoon rains are common between July and October, especially the further north you travel.

WHO CAN HELP

Experience Travel specialises in Asian travel, and offers a range of itineraries covering Thailand as well as multicountry trips including Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Burma. Its 14-day Essential Thailand itinerary (£2,585pp based on two sharing) includes Bangkok’s khlongs, street food in Chiang Mai, and the island of Ko Yao Noi, while the 15-day Thailand With A Difference tour (£1,595pp) includes visits to Lisu and Lahu villages (experiencetravelgroup.com).

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